In 2007, Ledonna Ellis had two girlfriends over to her apartment. The three girls went to a party and were home by midnight. Ellis went to sleep alone in one room, while the other two girls slept in a second bedroom.
At approximately 3:00 a.m., Ellis awoke to a man standing in her bedroom. Her room was dark, so she ran to her bathroom to turn on a light and did not see anyone. She then raced to her kitchen to turn on the light. In the kitchen, she saw the intruder in a crouched position in front of her refrigerator. Ellis ran to the other bedroom, slammed the door, and called 911. The intruder rummaged around the apartment for a few minutes; then he left through the front door.
Officer Michael Hall responded to a call about a potential burglary. He was given a description – a black male wearing a blue hoodie. Hall arrived at the apartment complex’s parking lot approximately a minute later. Upon arrival, he saw Eric Roberts walking across the parking lot.
He called him over and asked him where he was coming from. Roberts responded that he was coming from McDonalds. Hall told Roberts that Roberts fit the description of a suspect that was involved in a burglary. He then patted Roberts down and found an open bladed knife in Roberts’s pocket. After finding the knife, Hall placed Roberts in the back of his patrol car.
Roberts knocked on the police car’s window to get Hall’s attention. Hall opened the door, and Roberts told the officer: “All right, I just came out of this female’s room. I realized I forgot my phone, so I went back and got it, and I just left.” At that time, Hall read Roberts his Miranda rights.
At the police station, Detective Jon Traxler spoke with Roberts and again read Roberts his Miranda rights. Roberts signed a waiver of his Miranda rights and gave a statement that he walked a girl home from a party where he drank but he didn’t know her name. After a girl said there were blankets and you can sleep on the floor, he walked through a door and then left. He forgot his phone so he went back to the apartment before seeing the police.
He was convicted of burglary and sentenced to 25 years. On appeal, he argued 1) his statement to Hall was given without Miranda warnings and 2) his statement to Traxler should have been suppressed because he was drunk, threatened by Traxler, and it was not recorded. MCOA affirms.
A. Statement to Officer Hall
Miranda warnings are needed once the suspect is subject to custodial interrogation.
MSC said in Roberts v. State, 301 So. 2d 859 (Miss. 1974), that a subject is in custody when their right to freely leave has been restricted.
MSC said in Pierre v State, 607 So. 2d 43 (Miss. 1992), that the accused is subject to interrogation when he is questioned by the police or the functional equivalent.
The U.S. Supreme Court said in Rhode Island v. Innis, 446 U.S. 291 (1980), that the functional equivalent is any sort of activity which the police reasonably believe would produce an incriminating response.
Hall testified that he asked Roberts one question – “where are you coming from?” Thereafter, Hall put Roberts in the police car. A few minutes later, Roberts knocked on the window to get Hall’s attention. Hall opened the door, and Roberts said: “I was in this female’s room that I didn’t know, but she asked me why I was there, so I just left.” Hall immediately read Roberts his Miranda rights.
It is clear that Roberts was in custody when he was in the back of the police car and told Hall that he had been in the apartment. However, Roberts was not subject to custodial interrogation or the functional equivalent. Instead, Roberts actively sought Hall’s attention by knocking on the window.
Roberts made the statements without Hall asking him a question. Because his statements were not the product of custodial interrogation and were made voluntarily, this issue is without merit.
B. Statement to Detective Traxler
In O’Halloran, he argued that his confession was involuntary because he was intoxicated. The MSC held that no one factor is dispositive in the totality of circumstances test for whether a confession is voluntary. Indeed, intoxication or sickness does not automatically render a confession involuntary. The admissibility of a confession depends upon the degree of intoxication.
The court found that three officers testified that O’Halloran appeared sober and did not smell of alcohol when he gave his incriminating statements. The court also concluded that O’Halloran had to wait approximately an hour and a half before he was questioned.
Like the officers in O’Halloran, both Hall and Traxler testified that: Roberts did not smell of alcohol; he was coherent; and he appeared sober when he gave his statements. Also, the trial court concluded that Roberts testified clearly about the night’s events and that the defense offered no proof about Roberts being drunk, except through Roberts’s unsubstantiated testimony.
Roberts also claims that Detective Traxler threatened that he would charge Roberts with burglary if Roberts did not give a statement at the police station.
Traxler testified that he did not threaten Roberts. Hall and Traxler each read Roberts his Miranda rights. Roberts signed a waiver of his Miranda rights, and in his own handwriting, Roberts wrote his statement. Roberts offered only assertions and no evidence showing that he was threatened. In light of the evidence, we find that the State proved the voluntariness of Roberts’s statement beyond a reasonable doubt.
B3. Statement was not recorded
Finally, Roberts contends that his statement was not properly recorded and that law enforcement must record confessions using video cameras or audio recorders.
This equipment may assist the trial court’s fact finding and may prohibit many frivolous appeals.
However, the use of such equipment is not presently required under Mississippi law, and this court does not have the authority to mandate such a change. Therefore, this is an issue better left to the Mississippi Legislature or the Mississippi Supreme Court.